“FRUITS OF THE SPIRIT: PEACE”
The Reverend Phillip Blackburn
November 6, 2016
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It’s almost over. Finally! 72 hours from now we will likely have a new president. While we might believe that this will give us a relief from the cultural anxiety which has been ratcheted up to 11 by this election, it likely won’t. Instead , all new and previously unexplored anxieties will replace the ones we are all experiencing right now. It has been an election unlike any of us have ever seen, at least that’s what people keep saying to me. We had a plumber named Dave out at our house the other day. Nice guy. Big guy. Lives in the country. We got to talking, and Dave said, “I’ve just never seen anything like this.” When the plumber says that, you know it’s been pretty bad.
But you know, I’ve been thinking, and I think we’ve all allowed ourselves to get a little too worked up. I’ll tell you what I mean. Think of a traffic jam for a moment. Is there anything more irritating than that? Here you are, in your car, on your way to someplace and you are stuck. The traffic isn’t moving. Yahoos are trying to horn into your lane. It’s summertime and your AC is working overtime to try to keep the sun from baking you, and you just sit there. It’s terrible. The anxiety that comes. When will it end? Will I be late? What can I do? It’s terrible. Well, I was flying into Dallas not too long ago and we were getting ready to land. We were flying over one of their 10 million highways and there was a traffic jam. And you know, it’s funny, I am sure that the people in the jam were as frustrated and annoyed as we would’ve been. But it was different from up above. It all looked so small. The jam probably lasted for a few miles but it wasn’t much to speak of. From where I sat, there was so much more to the world, to life, than that little traffic jam. Those people would all make it home that night. The jam would eventually and inevitably end, and they would forget about it. It just looked different from up above.
Jesus, I believe, was trying to get his disciples off the ground. In the end of John, Jesus preaches to his disciples for several chapters, and he hits on a bunch of themes. He talks about who he is, about his relationship to the Father. He talks about leaving them the Holy Spirit, and the coming trial. He talks about leaving and about the coming of the ruler of the world. And he talks to them about peace. Several times he brings up peace to them, and it is particularly poignant here in chapter 14. He leaves his peace with them, and he tells them he is going away. Worse, the ruler of the world is coming? Who is this ruler? Some commentators believe it is the authorities, some the Romans, others Satan himself. I tend to fall on the side of the authorities who are coming to arrest and kill Jesus. Those who have been threatened by him.
As he talks, the disciples begin to understand one thing. They are in a jam. Their leader is about to die and they will be left behind. They understand they cannot go with him; Jesus has made that abundantly clear, and so they are scared. What will happen to our teacher? What will happen to us? These questions press in on them and the realities of the world become clear. The ruler of the world always wins, they must have thought. The ruler always comes in and makes his play, stamps out dissent, maintains his power. Jesus, although charismatic and powerful in his own right, stood no more chance against this power than those who came before or would come after. This was a reality check.
And so to buttress their fear and anxiety Jesus did two things. First he promised that the Holy Spirit would come to them after he left, thus they would not be alone. And second, he gave them his peace. More than once in these chapters he gives them his peace. And that is the part that is key. Jesus’ peace, you see, is what lifts us out of the traffic jam and into the sky.
Peace, you see, is about perspective. Perspective is something we often lose, especially around elections, but that is what it is all about. Think about it this way, for a moment. Have you ever been on a flight with turbulence? If you’ve flown at all, you have experienced that. What did you do? Likely you immediately stiffened your body and grabbed your arm rests. Then, as it continued, you got more and more anxious. One of the biggest sources of your anxiety was not the turbulence itself, but rather the reality that you were completely out of control. You had no power over the turbulence. You couldn’t get off the plane. You couldn’t fly the plane. You couldn’t move away from the turbulence. All you could do, the only thing you could do, in your mind, was wait for it to end. But end it did, as evidenced by the fact that you are here today. One of the reasons people hate flying is because it takes away our feelings of control. This scares us. But it shouldn’t. That’s where peace comes into play. Peace, you see, reminds us that we don’t really have much control over the events which swirl around us. But we do have control, a lot of control, over how we respond to those events.
I am convinced that one of the things which made Jesus so attractive during his life was his peace. It was his understanding that he was not here to control or manipulate politics, but rather to change people’s lives; to change how they saw themselves, saw their neighbor, and saw God. That is what he did. That is how, as he is preparing for the pain and humiliation of the cross, he can share peace, rather than fear, with his friends. He could remove himself and look down on it. The cross killed his body, but it did not kill him. It couldn’t. The ruler of the world, whomever he may be, could no more change who Jesus is than he could change water into wine. It wasn’t possible. And Jesus’ peace, that peace reminds us that there is something free and powerful which dwells inside all of us, something which the ruler of our world cannot touch, something more important than anything else, it is the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. That lives inside of you. Do you understand that? When the plane begins to bounce, when the cars begin to pile up, when we get scared deep down, all that can be broken is our bodies, and that is inevitable. Who we are, the peace of Christ which dwells in us through the Holy Spirit, that cannot be broken. That cannot be changed.
I’m not going to stand here and say any given election doesn’t have consequences. They all do. But does the identity of the President of the United States and their policies change who you are? Does it change the fundamental truth that you are a beloved child of God, that Christ’s peace is within you if you can only get out of the anxiety of this world for a moment and remember it? No. No. No. It does not. What happens on Tuesday is so small. It is so very small. Do you think it has any bearing on God? On Jesus Christ? If the authorities couldn’t stamp out his life and his essence through crucifixion, if death is always met with resurrection, then what do you really think this election can change about the foundation of our existence? Nothing. Get out of the jam and look down upon it. Release your need to control everything and settle into this truth. The peace of Jesus Christ dwells within you, and nothing, no matter what, can ever change that, unless you yourself give into fear and anxiety and allow it. The peace of Christ is with you. Amen.